The following article was provided by the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Seoul for publication by The Korea Post media on the occasion of Azerbaijan.—Ed.
The people of Azerbaijan are justifiably proud that this republic was created. This is a historic event, a historic event for our people and on a global scale. A democratic republic was established for the first time in the Muslim world. This in itself showed again how progressive and talented our people are.
In its brief existence of fewer than two years, the Republic of Azerbaijan managed to take a number of important steps in the process of nation-building and the development of statehood. The national flag and citizenship of Azerbaijan were approved, and the national army was created. Baku State University was established. More than 200 laws were adopted, including a law granting women the right to vote.
Unfortunately, the Republic of Azerbaijan did not last long. Two years later, our independence was taken away from us. The Bolsheviks invasion of April 1920 put an end to the independence of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The people of Azerbaijan lived in the Soviet Union for 70 years.
In 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan regained its independence for the second time in the 20th century. The difficulties faced by the Republic of Azerbaijan, including Armenia’s territorial claims and the war against Azerbaijan, geopolitical intrigues, the socio-economic problems engulfed the modern Republic of Azerbaijan as well since regaining its independence in 1991.
The policies pursued later by the national leader Heydar Aliyev developed the sense of national identity by reviving our deep historical and cultural memory, as well as by instilling a firm conviction for preserving and strengthening our independence and statehood. The Azerbaijani people treasure the statehood policy of the national leader Heydar Aliyev and celebrate the anniversary of their independence this year with the heightened sense of pride and particular spirit of festivity.
Today the Republic of Azerbaijan under the leadership of President Ilham Aliyev as an independent, sovereign and democratic country brings into reality the aspirations and ideals of the Republic of Azerbaijan with its good and effective management, socio-economic and human capital development as well as its growing role and prestige in international relations. If the founders of the Republic of Azerbaijan were alive, they would have been proud of today’s Republic of Azerbaijan.
As it was said by national leader Heydar Aliyev: “Azerbaijan’s independence is eternal and irrevocable”.
Major achievements of Azerbaijan
Under the leadership of President Ilham Aliyev Azerbaijan has gone through tremendous development: from socioeconomic and political points of view, in terms of improving the governance system and the dynamism of reforms.
We can see that over these years Azerbaijan has modernized and entered a qualitatively new stage. All spheres of the country's life have been improved and changed beyond recognition. This renewal was accompanied by a steady increase in the well-being of the people and the solution of a significant part of accumulated problems. The government and the people have united around a single platform.
Unemployment in our country has dropped from 45 to 5 percent and poverty from 50 to 5 percent. In the early 2000s, energy, gas and water supply, roads, the condition of schools and hospitals in the regions were unsatisfactory. Currently, 95 percent of the country’s territory has gas supply. Over 17 years, about 16,000 kilometers of roads and more than 3,000 schools have been built; over 600 medical facilities have been rebuilt or renovated. During this time, more than 30 power plants have been commissioned. Azerbaijan has become an exporter of electricity.
If we add to this the transnational energy and transport projects implemented on the initiative and with the participation of Azerbaijan, the entry of our country into a small club of space-faring nations, the picture will become even clearer.
The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline about 2,000 kilometers in length was built between Baku and the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. The Southern Gas Corridor is an even larger project: about 10 international banks, numerous companies participate in the project worth $40 billion, and covering seven countries.
Three years ago, the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway line connecting Turkey and Azerbaijan, Central Asia, and China was opened in Baku. It is possible to say that the implementation of another important project with the goal of establishing a speedy and viable trade link between Europe and Southeast Asia has been completed as well – the creation of a section of the North-South transport corridor passing through Azerbaijan.
The list is quite long and multidimensional of important international events recently hosted in Azerbaijan: the World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue, the Global Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations, the Summit of World Religious Leaders, as well as the first European Games, the Fourth Islamic Solidarity Games, Formula 1 events, the Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement...
Today, the world knows and accepts Azerbaijan as a reformer country. The Doing Business-2020 report of the World Bank ranks Azerbaijan among the top 20 reforming countries. The report of the Davos World Economic Forum ranks our country 10th in terms of long-term government strategy and fifth in terms of focus on reform.
“ASAN” service has gained worldwide fame as the intellectual brand of Azerbaijan. “ASAN”, which has put up a barrier to corruption, bribery, bureaucracy, and red tape in the services sector the population is in daily contact with, is not an ordinary project, but a radical reform that has caused satisfaction throughout the country and creating revolutionary changes in people’s mindset.
Important developments between Azerbaijan and Korea in 2020
Azerbaijan and Korea enjoy fruitful ties that develop every following year. This year was also expected to be very dynamic in terms of cooperation, however, due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak the mutual visits as well as the business-related events reduced or suspended for uncertain time.
Just before the spread of COVID-19 the Azerbaijan and Korea had a chance to hold a second meeting of the Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation between the government of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the government of the Republic of Korea in Baku on 6 February 2020.
Broad prospects for cooperation between countries in the field of ICT, e-government, transport, energy, science, culture, education, and other areas were discussed at the event. Active cooperation between the two countries within the framework of a number of international organizations, in particular the UN, was also noted.
Sides also emphasized the evolving cooperation between the two countries, especially in the areas of infrastructure, energy, construction, transport, information technologies, the environment, and alternative energy.
In order to exchange information on exhibitions, fairs, conferences, business forums, and other events held in both countries, it was proposed to organize business forums for businessmen, as well as provide mutual support in finding business partners.
The Azerbaijani side invited technical universities and technology-oriented companies of the Republic of Korea to participate in the activities of the Technology Transfer Center, created by the Innovation Agency under the Ministry of Transport, Communications and High Technologies of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
Following the discussions, the protocol of the second meeting of the Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation between the governments of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Korea was signed.
Azerbaijan is Korea’s main trading partner in the South Caucasus region. Azerbaijan is mostly importing electrical machinery, vehicles, computers, and equipment from Korea. Meanwhile, the export from Azerbaijan is consisting of precious metals, juices, bedding items, and others. The world economic situation also highly affected the trade relations between Korea and Azerbaijan.
The bilateral trade volume between Azerbaijan and Korea was 159 mln. USD for 2019. According to customs statistics of Azerbaijan, goods valued 159 mln. USD were imported by Azerbaijan and 137 thousand USD goods were exported from Azerbaijan to Korea. We hope the trade volume will increase with the kind efforts of our governments in the years to come.
Business environment in Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan’s rich hydrocarbon resources have been attracting attention to its economy which consequently made the oil and gas sector the main target of foreign investments. Azerbaijan in its turn directed the oil and gas revenues for the development of the country and has managed to up-build modern communication and transportation infrastructure, as well as industrial, agricultural, service, educational, housing and healthcare sectors.
Azerbaijan inflows focus on the oil and gas sector, although one of the top priorities of the Azerbaijani Government is to diversify the country’s economy and attract FDI to agriculture, transportation, and tourism, and information/communication technology.
Over the past years, the government has implemented economic, business and law reforms to integrate the country more fully into the global marketplace, seeking to attract foreign investment, diversify its economy by adopting new regulations and policies.
As the result of reforms “One Window” principle was introduced, many tax incentives applied to stimulate the flow of foreign investments, registration procedures involving several governmental bodies have been eliminated and Azerbaijan Export and Investment Promotion Foundation has been created to support international companies. The government specifically put the focus on stimulative incentive programs by creating tax-free zones and technological parks where foreign investors can benefit from zero tax opportunities.
At the same time many state inspections, prior authorization requirements for foreign investment, technology transfer restrictions, foreign exchange restrictions, licensing for currency operations involving the movement of capital, limits on the amount of foreign capital in companies, restrictions on repatriation of profits and legal limitation on ownership have been stamped out.
In a word, the Azerbaijani Government encourages large-scale investments not only in the energy sector, but also in infrastructure projects, including the construction of highways, railways, and development of information technologies and agricultural sphere. Of course, this would not be possible without the reforms and other significant efforts made by the government to create a healthy and enabling environment for foreign and local businesses.
Current and potential cooperation areas
Korea is a reliable partner for Azerbaijan and expanding economic ties is a common goal for both countries. 74 Korean companies have been registered in Azerbaijan, which carries out activities in the field of industry, construction, trade, services, and transport, and there is great potential for attracting investments in other areas. Korean companies participated in large projects implemented especially through state financing in Azerbaijan.
Samsung Engineering was a general contractor of the Sumgait carbamide plant of Azerbaijan’s energy major SOCAR. The total cost of the project was 750 million euros. Foundation of the Carbamide Plant was laid in 2011 by President Ilham Aliyev.
Heerim Architects & Planners Co., Ltd on the other hand, provided design, construction, and management services to the “Baku Olympic Stadium” a multi-purpose sporting complex accommodating 68,000 spectators located in the capital city Baku of Azerbaijan. Mainly being used as the home field for the national football team of Azerbaijan, the stadium had successfully served as the main stadium to host the inaugurals of the 2015 European Games and 2017 Islamic Solidarity Games.
Furthermore, Halla Engineering & Construction won a project to build a USD 120 million new office tower of Azersu-Azerbaijan's national water operator in 2013. The building, designed by Heerim Architects & Planners, is shaped like a water drop to reflect the company's main business and its proximity to the Caspian Sea.
Meanwhile, Securo Co. Ltd did the design and construction work of the Aquatic Palace in Baku. The Palace, which covers a total area of 46,000 square meters, was built in accordance with the latest standards. It fully meets the requirements of the International Swimming Federation. Besides, Securo Co. Ltd designed and actively took part in the project’s reconstruction of the Republic Stadium of Azerbaijan named after Tofig Bahramov and building the new Republic Stadium Hotel.
As our economy diversifies, great potential emerges for expanding current economic relations. There are many opportunities for Korean companies to invest in agriculture, tourism, food processing, machinery, and chemical industries while demand for new technology-related areas, such as pharmaceuticals, IT, space industry, and nanotechnologies have also developed. We want to see more Korean companies as investors, traders, and contractors in our country.
There are many infrastructure projects that create opportunities for international companies to cooperate with different business models including public-private partnerships and built, operate, and transfer. The techno and agricultural parks allow companies to invest in various industries where they can import the machinery without custom taxes at the same time benefit 7 years of tax-free opportunities.
Azerbaijan is actively investing in tourism and tourism infrastructure which is one of the fastest-growing sectors of our economy. There is a great potential for mutual cooperation: the creation of joint tourist routes, joint projects in tourism education, and joint projects in the field of tourism, development of tourism infrastructure, both in Azerbaijan and in Korea.
Information and communication technologies are also of great importance to Azerbaijani-Korean cooperation. We are actively investing in various sub-sectors of information technology: the IT, phone, and space industries which could be great milestones for cooperation.
The cultivation of organic agricultural products was always under the attention of the Azerbaijani Government. In this regard, there is a big opportunity to cooperate in the field of agriculture and food security as well. The environment sector is not only of a social character, but it is also very interesting and important for the business. Recycling should be emphasized as a direction for cooperation between Azerbaijan and Korea. The services sectors, where a big part of foreign investments have accumulated, have been growing in recent years including in communications, transport, banking, insurance, and healthcare.
It should be noted that Azerbaijan is ready for cooperation not only with the largest Korean enterprises but also with small and medium enterprises. We also should highlight the importance of increasing efforts to bring export-oriented products of both countries to other markets.
Major Tourist Destinations
Azerbaijan - a miraculous country with its rich history, ancient culture, and well educated and hospitable people, whose lifestyle presents a unique and harmonious combination of the traditions and ceremonies of different cultures and civilizations has always been an attractive tourist destination.
Traditionally, Azerbaijan was attractive for tourists from former Soviets and Western countries due to geographical and historical realities. However, in the past few years, Azerbaijan became well known by North-East Asian countries as well which opened new gates for receiving tourists from the said part of the world. From this point of view, the development of Azerbaijan-Korea relations in the tourism field can play an important role in enhancing our relations. The Republic of Korea is one of the priority countries for Azerbaijan in terms of enhancing cooperation in the tourism field. Therefore, Azerbaijan applies simplified electronic visa procedures for Korean citizens, and they can obtain visas in the international airports of Azerbaijan, upon arrival as well.
The government of Azerbaijan made significant investments in the Azerbaijani tourism sector – primarily in hotels, transport facilities, museums, and other tourist attractions.
Mountains, forests, coastal areas, and nine out of eleven climate zones from subtropical to alpine climates provide Azerbaijan with a broad range of natural environments that can be used to develop a range of tourism activities and to attract a diverse group of tourists.
There is a favorable business environment for both local and foreign companies in the tourism sector. World-class tourism locations can be enjoyed in different regions including capital city Baku and suburbs, Gabala, Shaki, Guba, and Zaqatala regions of Azerbaijan.
In Azerbaijan, one can meet curative, mineral and thermal waters, mud volcanoes, and oil for medical treatment. There are also 6 national parks, 12 reserves, and 17 protected areas occupying 2.4% of the territories of the country.
Azerbaijan has a great potential for further developing the tourism industry thanks to its ancient cities, fortresses, palaces, museums, towers, and “Caravanserais” (ancient oases). The unique museum-reservations, such as the Gobustan National Museum (rock art cultural landscape), the fire worshipper's temple Ateshgah, the Palace of Shirvanshahs, Maiden Tower, Old city are a magnificent sample of history that attracts millions of tourists. Some of them are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. There are more than 6 thousand historical monuments of architecture preserved in the territory of Azerbaijan. And definitely, the rich tradition and exquisite national cuisine of Azerbaijan attracts many tourists from abroad as well.
Situated at the crossroads between East and West and between North and South, Azerbaijan functions as the natural transport corridor. Current trends and dynamics in Euro-Asian trade and common interests, projects, and areas of greater cooperation between regional states strengthen Azerbaijan’s position as a strategic hub in Central Eurasia.
As mentioned above, the multinational projects such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, Southern Gas Corridor gas pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad, initiated and mainly supported by Azerbaijan, plays undoubtedly a determining role in the future development of the region. These projects led and realized successfully so far by Azerbaijan had great results in developing different spheres of the economy of the whole region deriving its advantage of the important strategic-geographical position.
However, I would also like to mention that the aggression of neighboring Armenia against Azerbaijan which has resulted in the occupation of 20% of the territory of Azerbaijan not only impedes the regional economic development and cooperation but also threatens stability and makes everlasting peace and prosperity in the region impossible.
That occupation lasts for over 27 years. As a result of an ethnic cleansing policy that Armenia committed against Azerbaijan 1 million Azerbaijanis have become refugees or IDPs. UN Security Council has adopted 4 resolutions demanding the withdrawal of Armenian forces from Azerbaijan lands but they remain unfulfilled. We think the only way of settlement of this issue must be based on norms and principles of international law, the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan which has been recognized by the international community and UN.
On this point, we would like to stress the just position of the Korean government on Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict mentioned in the Joint Statements signed during the visits of the Presidents of both Korea and Azerbaijan in 2006 and 2007.
Taking into consideration all the above mentioned, I once again would like to underline that relations with Korea is one of the important directions of our foreign policy and I’m sure that in coming years friendly relations between Azerbaijan and Korea will further successfully develop and strengthen for the prosperity and benefit of our peoples.